Brexit must be based on what drove the vote to go, says John McDonnell

John McDonnell John Stilwell/PA Wire

John McDonnell John Stilwell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Trade union rights, controlling exploitative employers and investment in public service would address immigration fears which fuelled a Brexit-vote, the shadow chancellor has said.

John McDonnell, who grew up in Great Yarmouth, said he had seen first hand concerns about immigration in pubs, clubs and cafes in Great Yarmouth when he visited the area.

He said Britain's new deal with the European Union post-Brexit had to be based on what had motivated people to vote to leave.

'A lot of the anxieties and concerns about a whole range of issues were poured into that one vote. It was almost like a by-election where people wanted to protest about how they felt things were, but at the same time they did want a different relationship with Europe and that is what is what we are going to have to work out now.

'The issues around migration are quite interesting because what was coming out in all those discussions was this was all about the regulation of the labour market – what people don't want is to have wages undercut, they want wages to be protected. At the same time they want to ensure public services are not under pressure in the way that they are.


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'The solutions to that are to make sure you control exploitative employers, restore trade union rights and invest in public services. The reason services are under pressure in places like Great Yarmouth is not necessarily to do with migration, but more to do with austerity cuts of the last six years,' he added.

He admitted that the Labour Party positioning at the moment was 'difficult'.

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'You have the liberals on the one hand trying to overturn the referendum result. You have the Tories and UKIP trying to push through a 'hard Brexit' which I don't think people will want at the end of the day because it will cost jobs.

'What we are trying to say is there has got to be a political party that unites the country again. Emotions are raw at the moment on both sides, but I think there are a large number of people in the middle who want a sensible relationship that protects jobs and wages. And to make sure that whatever system we have, with regards to free movement, we have something that is fair and nondiscriminatory. That is the position of the Labour Party.'

Labour lost Great Yarmouth in the 1970 general election and did not win the seat back until 1997 under Tony Blair's leadership.

Questioned about whether Labour could win back Great Yarmouth under a left-wing Labour leadership when it had been the Tony Blair landslide which had turned the town red, Mr McDonnell credited the 1997 victory to the 'good hard working Labour MP' Tony Wright.

He added that from 2005 they had lost votes because 'there was an element of disillusionment that set in'.

'I think there was a lack of clarity about where the Labour Party was going then. I think what they need is practical and pragmatic solutions to an area like Great Yarmouth. I can understand why people feel angry at the moment – they are disillusioned because they feel they have been left behind.

'What they need is a sensible and clear discussion about what the future of that town is and what the economic plan is needed for the future, looking at where the investment needs to go and skills training.'

'Tony Wright was a good Labour MP and battled on behalf of Great Yarmouth to get more investment in infrastructure basically.

'I think over the years the area has been neglected. There has been a lack of investment. It is one of those areas where you can see huge potential. Incredibly industrious people. It has always been the case. If you look over the years in different sectors and different industries, including tourism, people work incredibly hard. You have industriousness. With proper infrastructure in place you can see Great Yarmouth could be restored to prosperity. It needs investment. There hasn't been a long term stable plan for the area and I think that is one things a Labour government could do and assist with,' he added.

Could Labour win back Great Yarmouth under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell's leadership? Email edpletters@archant.co.uk

On Ed Balls

Ed Balls did not have a clear narrative or explain the consequences of the 2007/2008 financial crisis when in post, his has successor said.

John McDonnell praised the Norwich City chairman's ability to run rings around former chancellor George Osborne - but said he had not been clear about what Labour needed to do when it got back into government.

Mr McDonnell would not be drawn about whether Mr Balls should make a political comeback, saying: 'That is up to him. I am not planning his future for him.'

He said: 'I think he [Ed Balls] rang rings around Osborne technically, economically in terms of his technical ability he was head and shoulders above Osborne. The problem is that issue in politics is that often narrative overrides technical competence. I don't think we had a clear narrative about explaining the economic crisis in 200878 and its consequences, or a narrative about what we needed to do when we went back into government.

'He is technically competent and really creative, but that issue of narrative is the problem the party had as a whole. I just wish we knew then what a good dancer he was.'

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